An album serves as a milestone that can be viewed as an indication of where an artist is in the progress of their career. Some artists will produce several albums, often at least once a year, while others will release far fewer, working on their albums for long periods of time.
In recent times, the album has become almost secondary to the single. However, we’re seeing a resurgence in the popularity of the album as a musical format, artists are rediscovering the unique opportunities for creative expression that an album can offer them. We’ve put together a list of the four best albums in January 2023. Check it out below.
Ryuichi Sakamoto – 12
Japanese composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto has enjoyed a long and storied career. Hailed as a pioneer as a result of his unique fusion between classical and electronic music, Ryuichi Sakamoto has also gone on to score a number of high-profile films, including The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky, and The Revenant.
Since 2014, Sakamoto has been battling cancer, with his disease worsening during the pandemic. In 2020, he began live streaming music sessions to his fans, reimagining his older works in new and interesting ways on both the piano and the synthesizer.
Sakamoto’s new album, 12, is a compilation of recordings taken from these livestreams. The result is something akin to an aural diary, a collection of pieces taken from a time of immense pain and fear in Sakamoto’s life. The tracks are stripped back, spacious, and melancholic, named numerically in the order that they were first recorded.
As the album progresses, dark synth-based washes and atmospheres give way to more recognisable and optimistic piano interludes. However, there is a constant undercurrent of foreboding, perhaps reflective of Sakamoto’s failing health and emotional state.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of the most influential artists living today. His music has inspired everything from paintings and film to royalty-free music. However, it is with 12 that we are seeing perhaps his most poignant work yet.
Skee Mask – B
Bryan Müller, better known as Skee Mask, is a German electronic music producer and DJ. A relative newcomer to the scene Skee Mask quickly gained both commercial and critical acclaim for his production prowess, with music that perfectly toes the line between functional, club-ready instrumentals and deeper, more purposeful compositions.
He has released four albums to date, the first three published by Munich-based record label Ilian Tape, with the final two, including B, released independently by Skee Mask. Each of his albums were received well by both fans and critics alike.
His latest album, B, is an 11-track compilation of tracks composed and produced from 2017 to 2020. To put B together, Skee Mask took a deep dive into his back catalogue of unfinished works. By rediscovering old musical sketches and fleshing them out into finished pieces of music, Skee Mask has produced an album that is the definition of eclectic. Tracks range from lopsided drum & bass to four-to-the-floor techno, with more electro and IDM-inspired tracks peppered throughout.
Skee Mask is a producer who is renowned for his versatility and his refusal to be pigeonholed into one particular genre or sound. B is certainly a testament to that, and clearly demonstrates that nobody can predict what Skee Mask will do next.
Tujiko Noriko – Crépuscule I & II
Japanese musician and filmmaker Tujiko Noriko has been at the forefront of the electronic and experimental pop genres for nearly two decades. Her sounds are deeply layered, with atmospheres and drones overlaying to create a foundation upon which she presents her vocals and keyboard melodies.
However, with Crépuscule I & II, Noriko seems to be traveling in a different direction. Her first album since 2014, not counting the two soundtrack albums for the films Kuro and Surge, this new LP is far more introspective and minimal. Gone are the wonky, whimsical, and often off-kilter songs that defined her career previously. The music in Crépuscule I & II is almost tranquil, with deeply filtered low rumblings and muted vocal drones creating an atmosphere that is simultaneously open and dense.
Lamin Fofana – Unsettling Scores
After fleeing war-torn Sierra Leone for Guinea, it’s easy to understand why the musical style of Lamin Fofana has changed so much. Previously a disciple of the sound of Detroit techno, Fofana has embarked upon a new sonic path that has been and is still being significantly shaped by his personal experiences.
The music on his latest album, Unsettling Scores, flits between sombre drones and dusty, glitching percussive patterns. It can be difficult to track the narrative of the album, which can perhaps be seen as a reflection of the recent upheaval in Fofana’s personal life.
Only the final track, Oily (Resurfacing), pays homage to his Detroit techno roots, with a rhythmic kick drum paid overlaying an undulating sonic template of bleeps and bloops.